Communion Of Dreams

“…of interest only to philosophers and ethicists.”
February 21, 2010, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, BoingBoing, Humor, Science, Science Fiction

His expert was one of best, one of only a few hundred based on the new semifluid CPU technology that surpassed the best thin-film computers made by the Israelis. But it was a quirky technology, just a few years old, subject to problems that conventional computers didn’t have, and still not entirely understood. Even less settled was whether the experts based on this technology could finally be considered to be true AI. The superconducting gel that was the basis of the semifluid CPU was more alive than not, and the computer was largely self-determining once the projected energy matrix surrounding the gel was initiated by another computer. Building on the initial subsistence program, the computer would learn how to refine and control the matrix to improve its own ‘thinking’. The thin-film computers had long since passed the Turing test, and these semifluid systems seemed to be almost human. But did that constitute sentience? Jon considered it to be a moot point, of interest only to philosophers and ethicists.

One of the things about Communion of Dreams which isn’t immediately evident is that the story isn’t really the story of the protagonist, Jon Thompson. That is the natural expectation – that the story is the protagonist’s story – so much so that even the editor from Trapdoor commented on how the protagonist allows other characters to grow within the storyline. It is, instead, the ending of the story of the old prospector Darnell Sidwell and the beginning of the story of Seth, the ‘expert system’ which is transformed into a true artificial intelligence beyond our scope to understand.

The quote above is from the first chapter of the book, and really sets the stage for this latter story. Jon doesn’t really think about these matters at the start – that’s not his job. But he is the vehicle through which the reader is pushed to explore these things, to become a philosopher and ethicist.

A few days ago I came across this brilliant little piece:

Artificial Flight and Other Myths
a reasoned examination of A.F. by top birds

Over the past sixty years, our most impressive developments have undoubtedly been within the industry of automation, and many of our fellow birds believe the next inevitable step will involve significant advancements in the field of Artificial Flight. While residing currently in the realm of science fiction, true powered, artificial flying mechanisms may be a reality within fifty years. Or so the futurists would have us believe. Despite the current media buzz surrounding the prospect of A.F., a critical examination of even the most basic facts can dismiss the notion of true artificial flight as not much more than fantasy.

We can start with a loose definition of flight. While no two bird scientists or philosophers can agree on the specifics, there is still a common, intuitive understanding of what true flight is: . . .

It’s well worth reading the whole thing. It’s only about a page in length, and gets across exactly the same message I tried to tell with my 109,000 word novel: how expectations constrain vision. A bird will naturally assume that flight means muscle-powered, biologically-based flight. Envisioning mechanized flight, let alone spaceflight, is something else entirely.

And so it is with ourselves and the trait we think defines us.

Jim Downey

(Via BB.)

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